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John Passant

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May 2013



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Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

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Assad’s backers on the left are ignoring reality

Assad’s backers on the left are ignoring reality

“Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of,” claimed a recent New York Times article.

For those on the left convinced that the US is hell-bent on backing the Syrian rebellion against the regime of Bashar Assad, or who claim the US is backing these “Islamist” forces, or even that the whole Syrian rebellion is a “US war on Syria”, this statement was greeted as a sign that “even the US” is coming to understand how bad the rebels “that it supports” are.

A more obvious explanation is that the NYT, which tends to closely reflect US ruling class thinking, is making this ridiculous, sweeping and clearly false statement precisely to justify the US policy, consistent over the last two years, of not supporting the Syrian uprising.

But isn’t the US sending arms to the Syrian rebellion? Simply making that statement does not prove that it’s true. CBS reported on 1 May, “The first shipment of US aid to the armed Syrian rebels was being delivered Tuesday to the opposition Supreme Military Council (SMC). It includes $8 million in medical supplies and ready-to-eat military food rations.”

Note that: After nearly two-and-a-half years of the Syrian uprising, about two-thirds of that time in the form of armed rebellion, the first US shipment of aid to the rebels occurred in May 2013 in the form of “medical equipment and food rations”. I guess the medical equipment and food rations have been launching this two-year “US war on Syria” retrospectively.

In reality, what we see most of the time is the US expressing extreme reservations about any kind of intervention in the Syrian civil war. In February, the US authorised a $60 million package for “non-lethal aid” for the SMC, once it had decided that the SMC leadership could be controlled and could control the flow of whatever equipment it got. Of that $60 million, it is only this $8 million in food and medicines that has yet seen the light of day.

More recently, there were hints that the package could include things like body armour and night-vision goggles. On 1 May, the Washington Post reported that US was “moving toward the shipment of arms” at some unspecified time in the next few months”. But [officials] emphasised that they are still pursuing political negotiation,” with Obama pursuing further talks with Russia to try to find agreement.

The US government stresses that its lack of material support for the rebels is due to US hostility to the growing “Islamist” part of the rebellion. Some of the Islamists are supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, others are not (e.g. the powerful Al-Nusra militia linked to Al-Qaida). The Islamist forces are generally hostile to US imperialism and very hostile to Israel, which has in stronger terms expressed opposition to these forces coming anywhere near power in Syria.

The idea that the US wants to support these Islamists but is pretending not to is nothing but a fantasy indulged in by parts of the left who have decided to throw their lot in with the reactionary dictatorship of Assad. Since the Islamists are doing a significant amount of the fighting, and the extreme fringe (e.g. Al-Nusra) has taken responsibility for the most “war-like” actions (e.g. terrorist bombings), the best way to claim the uprising is a “US war on Syria” is to make the unlikely claim that the US is supporting and arming these Islamists, despite the US and other imperialist governments stressing nearly every day that these Islamists are the primary reason they are not supporting and arming the uprising.

Indeed, with all the hoo-ha about the Syrian military allegedly using chemical weapons, and leftist claims that this was the parallel of the “WMD” excuse to invade Iraq, one might have expected the US to order some kind of “strong” action. In reality, Obama’s reaction was to redefine the “red line” of greater US involvement in Syria from any use of chemical weapons to any “systematic use”. In sharp contrast to the lies about Iraqi WMD peddled in order to justify an invasion, in this case Obama has reacted to allegations of use of chemical weapons by stressing that the evidence “was still preliminary” and thus he was in no rush to intervene: ” If we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, we can find ourselves in a position where we can’t mobilise the international community…” Most analysis concludes the US is very unlikely to change course. Phil Stewart and Peter Apps, writing for Reuters, noted

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel [has] stressed that no international or regional consensus on supporting armed intervention now exists… NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has ruled out Western military intervention and US Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s supreme allied commander, cautioned last month that the alliance would need agreement in the region and among NATO members as well as a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Likewise, the till-now more hawkish British government is now, according to Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz, exercising more caution in its attempts to arm the rebels fighting the Bashar Assad regime in Syria, following intelligence reports and warnings by other governments that the major part of the rebel movement has been taken over by Jihadist groups with links to Al-Qaida.

There are of course the much more hawkish calls from Republicans such as John McCain and Lindsay Graham for US air strikes on Syria’s chemical weapons sites. Notably, McCain was not concerned about whether Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons or not – even if they hadn’t, he said, the US should still “use Patriot [missile] batteries and cruise missiles” and ready an “international force” to enter Syria to secure stocks of chemical weapons.

Clearly McCain is a more aggressive imperialist than Obama. Yet his testimony is still not that useful for Assad fans as an argument. His hawkishness stems from a desire to not see chemical weapons fall into the hands of the Islamist opposition.

According to Stewart and Apps, “possible military choices range from limited one-off missile strikes from ships to bolder operations like carving out no-fly safe zones”. Alternatively the US could create “humanitarian safe areas that would also be no-fly zones off limits to the Syrian air force”.

However, as Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution warned: “Once you set up a military no-fly zone or safe zone, you’re on a slippery slope, mission creep and before you know it, you have boots on the ground.”


Many of the assertions about US aid to the Syrian uprising are nothing but reiterations of the well-known fact that the reactionary Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been providing a moderate stream of arms to specific rebel groups. The fact that they are pro-US is twisted in discussion to mean they are mere puppets of the US, as if they cannot have their own policies.

In fact, these two states are engaged in an aggressive regional “sub-imperialist” project, with the dual aims of rivalling Iranian influence in the region and turning the democratic impulse of the Arab Spring, including its Syrian chapter, into a sectarian war.

The US is very wary of this strategy, principally because the only available shock troops are “jihadists” who are more anti-US and especially anti-Israel than Iran, and much more so than the Assad regime, which does not have an “anti-imperialist” history at all.

The argument that the US “must” be behind the anti-Assad rebellion because some of its Arab allies are behind parts of it, is even more strange given the key US ally in the region, Israel, remains steadfastly opposed to the Saudi-led project. Israel views the victory of a Syrian uprising with a strong Islamist component as a nightmare scenario.

Israel carried out one airstrike in January, and there are reports that two more strikes have been carried out over the last few days. In these cases, the aim has clearly been to prevent the delivery of arms (apparently long-range missiles) to Hezbollah in Lebanon. But while Israel wants to weaken the Assad regime in order to disrupt the passage of arms between Iran and Hezbollah via Syria, it is also aware that the Syrian government has both kept the border with the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan completely quiet for 40 years, and has continually waged war on the Palestinians whenever they got too strong.

Speaking to CBS news in the US, Yuval Steinitz, Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs, explained that the “only scenario” for Israeli military action in Syria would be “to prevent the delivering of arms, chemical weapons and other kinds of weapons into the hands of terrorists”.

“Steinitz emphasised,” the report said, “that Israel was not urging the US to take any military action ‘whatsoever’ in Syria at this stage”.

For Israel, these “terrorists” mean both Hezbollah in Lebanon (which is currently allied to Assad) and the Sunni Islamist forces fighting to topple Assad. In an interview with BBC TV in late April, Netanyahu called the Syrian rebel groups among “the worst Islamist radicals in the world. So obviously we are concerned that weapons that are ground-breaking, that can change the balance of power in the Middle East, would fall into the hands of these terrorists,” he said.

According to Aaron Heller, writing in The Times of Israel, Israel is also worried “that whoever comes out on top in the civil war will be a much more dangerous adversary” than Assad – specifically in relation to the Golan Heights. “The military predicts all that (the 40-year peaceful border) will soon change as it prepares for the worst.” The region near the occupied Golan has become “a huge ungoverned area and inside an ungoverned area many, many players want to be inside and want to play their own role and to work for their own interests,” said Gal Hirsch, a reserve Israeli brigadier general, claiming Syria has now become “a big threat to Israel” over the last two years. The military’s deployment on the Golan is its most robust since 1973, “and its most obvious manifestation is the brand new border fence, 6 meters (20 feet) tall, topped with barbed wire and bristling with sophisticated anti-infiltration devices”.

Those raising false “anti-imperialist” flags to justify their support for a capitalist regime involved in horrifying repression of its people are ignoring reality. Israel, the key imperialist asset in the region, very clearly sees the Syrian rebellion as a far worse alternative to the Assad regime. Assad’s Western defenders either don’t mention Israel at all when they list the countries they think are waging “war on Syria” (and hope no-one notices the omission); or, even worse, they add Israel to their list despite the evidence (and hope no-one notices).

This article, by Michael Karadjis, first appeared in Socialist Alternative on 5 May 2013.



Comment from Kay
Time May 8, 2013 at 8:45 am

After the USA’s experience of the long-term results of backing and training the mujahideen during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, I doubt that the US will allow itself to be sucked into similarly supporting the Syrian uprising.

Syria is indeed a difficult scenario for Western countries. On the one hand you have a brutal dictator prepared to use whatever means possible to keep power. On the other hand, you have Islamists also prepared to do whatever it takes to gain power. And in the middle, you have huge numbers of innocent people and refugees whose needs are not met by either side.

As for John McCain and his Republican mates – perhaps the self-interest of the world’s armament makers is evident here?

John Kerry is in Russia trying to work out some sort of solution. Both the USA and Russia have in the past been targeted by Islamists. It is in the interest of neither country for these Islamists to be armed and to be successful. But supporting Assad is also difficult. Hopefully some compromise can be worked out that will gain the support of the UN, and will give the long-suffering people of Syria some peace and quality of life.

Comment from Ross
Time May 9, 2013 at 9:52 pm

The reality is thus.Al Qaeda is a US covert enitity.You can see pics of Zibignew Brezezinski with a young Osama Bin Laden back in the late 1970’s
Bin Laden was an US asset used against the USSR and their imperialistic aggression in Afghanistan.

All of a sudden like Saddham Hussein in Iraq ,Bin Laden was demonised and used as a pawn to invade Afghanistan,Pakistan,Libya and now Syria who are an ally of Iraq.

This is all about a New World Order of Global Goverance in which we the people will have no say or any freedom of expression.

The US backed Pol Pot murdered millions of his own people yet we still ignore the lies and travesty of Vietnam.

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